Monday, 2 May 2011

Religious Experience: Strengths/Weaknesses

Strengths and Weaknesses 

Weaknesses or rather challenges to religious experiences

  1. Religious experience, according to Flew, is highly dependent on background, interests etc, experiences are not separate and autonomous.   For example, one would be shocked if a Hindu experienced the vision that Bernadette did at Lourdes.
  2. If religious experience does provide evidence for the truth of religion, then for which religion does it provide truth, it cannot for all religions as they conflict. For example, Christians will state that Jesus is the son of God, Muslims reject this and say that Jesus was a prophet and Mohammad is the supreme prophet, Jews reject Jesus and Mohammad etc. Some scholars even go as far as to say that many experiences are shaped and determined by pressure from religious institutions.
  3. There are many suggestions that God is just a product of the human mind. Feuerbach argued that the idea of God is a human projection. All attributes of God are ones we desire to be. ‘God is man written in large letters’. Freud’s psychological explanation of God is do to with our childhood vulnerability. As children we see our father as someone who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving but as we grow older we discover this is not the case and create an entity who is this, because of our deep subconscious wish to be secure.
  4. Some scientists say neurological mechanisms underlie religious experiences, in the brain scans of Buddhist monks one can find ‘causual operators’ and ‘holistic operators’ which underlie such events.
  5. Kant presents a logical explanation of why religious experience cannot be real. He suggests that although there may be a reality beyond the one we are in we cannot logically experience it because we can only experience things in the empirical realm. our senses are limited to try and experience an unlimited being or realm.
  6. Although, the Toronto Blessing may have been recorded and document it is not provable though that those experiences were caused by the Divine. Mass hypnosis and psychological explanations seem more logical than God.
  7. If God is interacting with humankind, why doesn’t he contact more humans, why only a few (Wiles’ point of an arbitrary God)
Strengths and counter arguments

  1. Davies rejects Flews criticism because she says that he point mainly applies to visions and that believers have to use the language of their tradition to articulate the point but the experience itself is the same whether Hindu or Christian.
  2. Religious experiences communicate a deeper meaning truths that were not known before not facts and figures they are not propositional revelations hence the criticism of the conflicts in truths cannot apply to religious experience and there is insufficient evidence to assert that many experiences are shaped and determined by pressure from religious institutions. Furthermore, believers say some  people are spiritually short-sighted which means they may not understand and even reject what they are experiencing. It could also be conceived that a pluralistic interpretation is possible - there are many ways up the same mountain.
  3. No all psychologist agree that religion and religious experience is a product of the mind. Jung (Swiss psychologist) says that spiritual develop was important part of our psychological self and William James, as we know said religious experiences and the brain aren’t just physical but has a metaphysical element to it.
  4. As with any scientific work, there is not complete evidence for this. Neurological blips show up on random brain scans. We do not question objects we see and their existence, the same way we can’t use a small group of people to state that religious experience is neurological mechanism. Moreover, some thinkers say that our brains are made in such a way that they are wired up to experience God.
  5. Believers argue we can’t cause religious experiences ourselves, we can still experience him if God chose to reveal himself. Alston as you will see later says that religious experiences are real and that our brain has capacity to experience God. Broad gives an analogy of a society of blind people, where some may develop the ability to see, the rest of the people will remain skeptical and not believe them because they themselves are blind.
  6. Modern examples, such as the Toronto Blessing, show that experience is no doubt real as it has been recorded and documented.
  7. God does not communicate with everyone because if God revealed himself to everyone then idea of faith would be irrelevant as everyone knew he existed.


  1. I'm currently doing Religious Studies as an A Level, and we are having Davey Falcus coming to question at our sixth form tomorrow. Religious experiences no doubt raise my curiosity but also unleash a more cynical side to my opinion. This is very helpful!

    Thank you! ^_^ x

  2. Thank you for such a wide selection of information, scholars and interpretations. Much more useful to me for revising than my notes and I really like some of the ideas which I previously hadn't heard of.